Fact check: Did Kentucky order police to record the license plates of Easter churchgoers?
The claim: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ordered police to record the license plates of churchgoers on Easter
Religious services were a flashpoint of debate in Kentucky when social distancing requirements collided with Sunday's Easter holiday.
Saturday, conservative pundit Todd Starnes published an article accompanying his weekly podcast that said Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, ordered the Kentucky State Police to record the license plates of people attending church services on Easter Sunday.
Criticism of the move circulated widely on social media, including from members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation.
“Taking license plates at church? Quarantining someone for being Christian on Easter Sunday? Someone needs to take a step back here,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tweeted Friday.
"The same week Jews celebrate freedom from bondage and Christians celebrate freedom from death, Gov. Beshear is going to be in your church parking lot scanning your license plate,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeted.
“What the actual hell?” he wrote.
Social distancing in the Bluegrass state
Adapting to social distancing requirements, churches around the country prepared to celebrate Easter at a distance this year, many planning to hold virtual Masses and services in lieu of large gatherings where COVID-19 might spread.
Several churches in the Bluegrass state intended to go forward with in-person services despite a stay-at-home order issued by the governor. In response, the state took more stringent measures.
Friday, Beshear and the state Department of Health issued an emergency order making it a misdemeanor to attend mass gatherings of people. “Folks, we shouldn’t have to do this,” Beshear said at a news conference. “What we’re asking is for you to love your neighbor as yourself. We shouldn’t have to do this.”
The governor said that as of Friday, six churches still planned to hold in-person services. “Anyone attending such a gathering will be notified it is a misdemeanor violation of the emergency orders issued by the governor and Kentucky Department for Public Health,” a news release about the order said.
Saturday, the governor promised that the state is not going to "padlock doors or arrest pastors."
Recording license plate numbers, he said, is an effort to "say that if you’re going to make the decision to go to a mass gathering during this pandemic, it shouldn’t affect other people."
The churches continued with their plans despite the governor's order. At Maryville Baptist Church in Hillview, State Police waited for worshippers as they arrived for the morning service on Easter Sunday. Before Beshear's order Friday, other officials had issued warnings to the church not to hold service.
The conflict between state and local officials mandating social distancing and faith leaders insisting on religious gatherings has taken place across the country as policies meant to protect public health collide with people’s spiritual commitments.
“More than 99.8% of the commonwealth’s houses of worship canceled in-person services this weekend,” Beshear said in a statement Sunday evening. “Only about seven congregations held in-person services disregarding the governor's executive order banning mass gatherings and repeated warnings from local, state and federal health officials that these services risked Kentuckians’ lives.
"Individuals who attended these in-person services will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days, in order to limit the impact of their actions on other people," the statement from the governor's office said.
Our ruling: True
We rate this claim TRUE, as it is supported by our research and reporting. States across the country have varied in how they handle religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. In Kentucky, the governor prohibited such mass gatherings. Reports from the state suggest that Beshear sought to enforce his order as he warned he would.
Our fact-check sources:
- April 10 news release, Office of Kentucky Governor
- April 12 news release, Office of Kentucky Governor
- March 25 Executive Order from Kentucky Governor
- Louisville Courier-Journal, Easter churchgoers defiant after Kentucky troopers write down their license plate numbers
- Louisville Courier-Journal, Kentucky church leader vows to hold Easter services even after getting Beshear stop order
- USA TODAY, Fact check: Texas' governor deems religious services 'essential' amid pandemic
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